Social Media Marketing for Photographers: Is $5 More Powerful Than Your Friends?

Last month I did a photography related social media marketing contest. The idea was simple -- if you helped my photo get a lot of views, I'd win an iPad 3 -- and I'd give you my iPad 2. Summary: Thanks to everyone who participated! The results? Posting a link on social media is not enough to stand out in the great sea of distraction. There wasn't a well-connected maven who was able to tip the scales in my favor. A $5 promotion drove much more traffic to the contest than any individual. Let's take a look at the results:

Blog: I wrote a post about the contest, and did a follow-up post with a YouTube video [680 views].

Marketing Lesson: My blog archive gets a lot of traffic from search. Creating a contest graphic that appeared on all of the pages of my site would have given me thousands more views during the contest. Review the analytics, and then put the important content where the traffic is. A simple idea that a lot of major websites get wrong.

Pinterest: The image got pinned, and I drove traffic to the image on Pinterest from other sites [600 real views].

Marketing Experiment: Using a site called fiverr.com, I paid $5 and got 2,648 likes on the Pinterest contest image. While most of these likes weren't real, I was interested to see if the large number of likes would help bexpose the image to more people. This didn't work for me, but another contest participant ended up selling a few prints using this technique.

Twitter: I rarely look at Twitter and I'm still puzzled that it exists. That being said, two nice folks with a fair amount of followers tweeted about the contest [view halloo?].

Marketing Lesson: Analytics are much more important than your number of followers. The potential audience was over 1500 people, but the analytics show that almost nobody is paying attention on Twitter.

Facebook: I have a fan page with 485 likes, which theoretically gives me access to 320,000 friends of fans. If you've got something to sell, a fan page is much more powerful than a personal page because the analytics help you understand what resonates with your audience [1600 views].

Marketing Tool: On average, only 25% of fans see one of my Facebook posts. I did a $5 promotion for the contest, and got 1255 views. Over 1000 extra people saw the post for 5 bucks. If you're selling something, that's cheap advertising. A standard Facebook ad would be more targeted, but also much more expensive.

An Unsettling Question: The Facebook posts after the promotion had less views than normal. Is Facebook's EdgeRank algorithm artificially limiting my post views to encourage me to pay again?

YouTube: The Adams marketing video was done as a proof of concept to show photographers that getting attention for your images isn't as easy as posting a link. Comedy helps. Video helps. Maybe I should have included a cat photo [75 views].

Flickr: I haven't been active on Flickr in a while, but have maintained an account to interact with photography workshop participants. The contest image only got 100 views, but there were 17 favorites and 8 comments -- a pretty high level of engagement [100 views].

Tumblr: I'd been enjoying a few Tumblr blogs in my feedreader. The contest encouraged me to sign up, and now I'm a bit addicted. Tumblr strips things down to what counts -- pictures, pictures, and more pictures.

Epiphanies Through Comparison and Selection: Mashing up my own night work with the huge mix of photography on Tumblr is the most artistically stimulating thing that's happened to me in a long time. Blowing up genre definitions and seeing fine art photos in a larger, more diverse sea of images can be revelatory. More on this topic soon. In the mean time, have a look at the Rye Fur Tumblr.

Conclusion: Is $5 Really More Powerful Than Your Friends?

If you're not a professional photographer, your core audience typically consists of your family, friends, and fellow photographers. Promotional tools are just a way to help expand your audience by spreading the news to friends of friends. Depending on how many extroverts are in your social circles, you may be able to get the word out by calling in a favor once in a while. If you've got a print sale, open studio, or an event to promote, you may want to consider reserving a little bit of budget for online promotions. It's cheaper than sending out postcards.

If you've got questions, comments, or other ideas for promoting your photos on social media, I'd love to hear about them!

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10 questions about fine art photography: An interview with Joe Reifer

Joe Reifer interviewed by BFA candidate Holli Brunkala, April 2011

1. Did you receive any formal training in photography? How has that helped or hurt your business?

I learned traditional black and white developing and printing from a college friend, and worked in a black and white lab for a short time. I was primarily focused on playing music during my 20's, and didn't get serious about photography until about 10 years ago.

I used to think the photography business was 80% business and 20% photography. Now I think a conservative estimate is more like 90%/10%. Marketing and negotiating are more important than f/stops and shutter speeds. John Harrington's Best Business Practices for Photographers book is really the best 20 bucks you could spend on your photography education.

2. It seems you do not have a rep. How are you marketing yourself? Due to the current economic status, have your strategies changed from when you were first starting out?

I am an artist with a day job. For the last 4 years I've made most of my income working 25-30 hours per week at a photography website company, teaching photography workshops, and teaching Photoshop at an art college. I've done occasional event and editorial work over the last 7 years, but I'm not actively seeking this type of work. My primary marketing activities are related to teaching workshops – blogging, social media, and email are the primary tools.

My job as an Account and Project Manager has given me the opportunity to meet and network with a wide variety of photographers. Beyond a handful of people who are doing weddings and corporate work, very few people I know are making a living as a full-time photographer without teaching or another source of income.

3. I could not find any books that you have published. Do you have another means of promoting your work?

Eventually I'm hoping to publish a book. Having a physical end product that's paper instead of pixels seems immensely satisfying. I'm encouraged by the quality improvements in the print-on-demand world. But I want to take my time. Going on road trips to out-of-the-way places and absorbing the atmosphere under a full moon is my favorite thing to do. I'm more interested in making work that pleases me and having adventures than I am in packaging and selling my photos.

4. The work on your website is geared toward the fine art genre of photography. Have you been able to make a living from selling these images on your website, in galleries, etc. or do you have supplemental income?

This is mostly addressed above, but here's the lowdown. Almost nobody makes a living solely as a fine art photographer. Beyond a very small roster of art world stars, even most well known successful fine art photographers have to teach or do commercial and editorial work.

Being a fine art photographer is a lot like being in a garage band. You might make enough money for a new guitar or camera, but you still need a job to pay your bills. Whether that job is shooting weddings or designing websites or working a regular job is up to you. My strategy has been to maintain a day job that leaves me the time and energy to shoot what I want.

5. What are the essential steps for an up-incoming photographer to make a successful living as a fine art photographer?

The best photography career advice I ever got was from Joe McNally at a workshop 6 years ago. He said “be an octopus.” You need to have an arm in everything, because it's unlikely that one thing will pay your bills. Fine art photography is the least likely thing to pay your bills actually. For most photographers, there isn't enough editorial work to pay your bills. So do both. Do headshots of lawyers. Pursue an in-demand specialty.

Once you have some experience, consider teaching. Love Photoshop? Lots of teaching opportunities there. Maybe you're really good at masking and compositing – look for work as a retoucher. Talk to people who are doing the kind of work that you're considering. Find out what it pays and how hard it is to get jobs. Do some assisting. Get to know some working professionals that will share their industry knowledge. Get a job at a lab or a high-end gallery. Don't get discouraged. If you really want to make a living in photography, you can do it – HOW you do it may be much different than you suspect.

6. You and Troy Paiva have images from the same places. Are you ever worried about preserving your identity and whether or not your images will look too much alike?

Troy and I have very different styles – part of our compatibility is because there isn't a threat that our images will look the same. In John Szarkowski's construct of Mirrors and Windows, he's a mirror and I'm a window.

7. How has it been beneficial to work with another photographer on night shoots?

The best part about night shooting with other photographers is networking about locations, camaraderie during the drive, and safety at remote locations. Seeing how other people shoot a location is also really interesting.

8. I am interested in photographing and/or documenting abandoned buildings, much like the images in your portfolio. How would a photographer go about gaining legal access to these types of places?

Make prints and be nice to people. That's the secret. Getting permission is all about social engineering. Many property owners are concerned about liability, so having insurance can be really helpful, too. Troy Paiva's chapter on location access in Lance Keimig's night photography book has extensive advice on this topic.

9. What makes Southern California, as opposed to other desert-scapes, the ideal place for night photography?

The Southern California desert has a wide variety of junkyards, mining ruins, and military and industrial sites to photograph. It's also about proximity for me – 6-7 hours in the car, and there's always something interesting to shoot. Western Nevada is also pretty nearby. With more time and budget, I'd do some shooting in Arizona, and New Mexico. The reality of working means if I'm driving more, I'm shooting less. Why drive further when the quintessential desert is only 300 miles away.

10. I noticed you update your blog fairly frequently. Why is it important for a fine art photographer to have and continually post to a blog?

Blogging is one of the best ways to get people to your website. Over 1/3 of my web traffic comes from people who are searching Google. There are a lot of ways to share your images online. I prefer using the blog format because I'm in control of the of the container, and it's integrated into my website. Once images and articles are posted on my blog, it's easy to share them on other websites.

Thanks again for the interview. Let me know if you have any follow up questions!

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Climbing the ladder of fine art print pricing

These are a few of my favorite things (covered car with shrubs) -- by Joe Reifer
These are a few of my favorite things (covered car with shrubs) -- by Joe Reifer

Let's break the fine art photography print pricing down into categories. All prices are for unframed prints.

Fine Art Photography Print Pricing

A: $50-100 for a small print. You are happy that somebody likes your photographs and wants to own one. You charge a token amount to cover the cost of printing. Prints are sold directly to the buyer either in person or online.

B: $250-500 for a medium sized print. You've moved beyond the small cafe show into small galleries. You've sold a little bit of work at level A. The craftsmanship of your prints is quite good. You're now selling your prints in editions. You've been taking notes on marketing. Sales may be direct or through a small gallery that takes 40-50%.

C: $1500-2500 for a medium/large sized print. You've been discovered by someone who can help market your work. Prints are now in the 24x30" range or bigger. You may have received some hype in a medium sized gallery, and perhaps some attention from a contest or magazine. Your prints are sold in small editions. You get about 50% of the sale price minus your expenses.

D: $4000-10,000 and up for a large print. You're now in the major leagues. For some reason your work has tipped from level C to level D. Could be an influential gallery, museum, book, media attention, critical acclaim, hardcore marketing, social climbing, dumb luck, or a combination. Probably a combination. The few people I've met in this league don't necessarily make photographs that are any better than yours or mine.

I am currently at the lower end of level B and selling very few prints because I don't like hyping myself, and haven't found the right person of influence to whisper my name into collectors' ears. If you are a person of influence who has a talent for whispering, drop me a line.

To keep life simple, I produce prints of my night work in two sizes:

  • Regular size -- 12x18" print. Typically framed to 18x24"
  • Large size -- previously 20x30" but I'm upping the ante to 24x36". Twice the regular size. 2x3 feet. Go big or go home. That's as big as I'm willing to print from 35mm digital right now.

If you were to ask me last week what my pricing was for an unframed print, I would've said $150 for a regular print in an open edition, and $300 for a large print in an edition of 5.

As Walter says in the Big Lebowski (quoting Theodore Herzl), "if you will it, it is no dream." I am jumping up from level B- to level B+. All pricing is artificial. I will embrace the artifice. Here is the new pricing:

  • Regular unframed 12x18" print: $300, edition of 5.
  • Large unframed 24x36" print: $750, edition of 2 plus an artist's proof

Aspect ratios will vary for a few images shot square or on 6x7 film. This editioning may be seen as a completely artificial marketing device. Or perhaps as a realistic number of prints that can sell of one image. Or a purposefully crafted number of prints that I could care about making before my attention span runs out.

There. I just jumped up a level in the fine art photography pricing world. All I had to do was type the new pricing into my blog. Maybe one day I'll claw my way up to level C. I am not holding my breath.

Are you trying to sell prints? Where do you fall on the scale, and how are you planning to get to the next level?

Update: After finishing this brief meditation on pricing fine art photography, I read New Republic art critic Jed Perl's vitriolic polemic against Koons, Murakami, and the modern museum experience. A very highly recommended rant indeed (via Gallery Hopper).

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Editorial Photography: The cost of doing business

Maybe you've been slinging a camera for a few years now. Shot some local events. Had a few things published. Maybe even got paid for your photos a few times. You are not alone. The modern era of inexpensive digital SLRs has created opportunities for many amateur photographers to get published, and ponder the dream of becoming a full time professional. I am here to splash some cold water on your face. There are very few people who can make a reasonable living as a full time editorial photographer. Witness the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) Cost of Doing Business Calculator. (Might be helpful to read the FAQ before proceeding). The calculator adds up the major expenses you'll have as an independent photojournalist, your desired income, and how many days of shooting you expect to bill in a year. The number you get is your cost of doing business. Let's proceed to the calculator and enter some numbers, shall we?

We'll use a broom closet as an office, a cheap cell phone plan, a spouse's insurance, and go with the most shoestring budget on everything we can. Think Top Ramen. Now assuming you are young and have cheap rent, let's enter $24K as your desired annual salary, and 100 days of shooting per year. That's 2 grand per month salary, and an expected 2 days of shooting per week. I end up with about $800 per week on the calculator. So now I need to bill 2 days per week at $400 to get by. Or 4 assignments as a stringer for a paper at $200 each. Or bill three days at $800 this week, and nothing for the next two weeks. Try fiddling around with the number of shooting days per year in the calculator. Or put the salary of your current job into the calculator, and realize your day job isn't so bad.

I did a week long workshop with lighting master Joe McNally back in 2004. Joe is one of the top editorial shooters in the country -- he's shot for Time, Life, Sports Illustrated, and National Geographic. These big magazines pay about $500-600 per day. Unless you can get a month long assignment from Geographic, it's going to be tough to make a decent living as an editorial photographer. Some of the best advice I got from Joe is that in the photography business you have to be an octopus. While one arm is doing editorial, you've got another arm that's doing stock, one that's teaching, and another doing portraits. How many arms do you have, and what are their photographic capabilities?

I don't think the transition into a full time photography career is impossible. If you have the drive, a plan, and some business sense you can make it happen. In a future episode we'll talk a little bit about some of the compromises that may be necessary to achieve your goals. In the mean time, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

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